While families elsewhere focus on school holidays that begin next week, Haberfield families have grimmer thoughts on their minds.
They are worried about the tunnel exits, unfiltered ventilations stacks and home demolitions that will devastate their neighbourhood if the Westconnex M4 tunnel goes ahead. So much so that on Wednesday this week, Haberfield Public School students, their parents and other residents, including some who will be forced from their homes, marched from the school to occupy the pedestrian bridge across Parramatta Road
It’s a sign that resistance and anger about the 37 kilometre Westconnex motorway is rising as the Baird government continues to refuse to release a business case to justify spending more than $15.4 billion on tollroads that it critics say will not solve traffic congestion.
“WestCONnex will do nothing except see people in western Sydney pay huge tolls to drive straight into an inner-city traffic jam. No doubt that’s why the Baird Government has been so desperate to hide the WestCONnex business case – they know the numbers don’t add up,” said Haberfield Westconnex Action Group spokesperson Sharon Laura who lives close to the proposed Haberfield tunnel exits.
The protestors were heartened by many toots of support from drivers of cars and trucks. Laura says this shows the message is getting through to the wider community that traffic conditions will worsen on many roads that will “be crippled by all the extra traffic caused by WestCONnex – both from drivers skipping the new tolls on the M4, and the tens of thousands of extra cars and trucks that this tunnel will spew onto our already crowded streets.”
The planned pollution stacks and tunnel exits are only metres away from a childcare centre, residential aged care homes, an Infants’ home, Haberfield Public School and thousands of homes.
But the WestConnex Delivery Authority (WDA) is showing its determination to proceed without a business case or planning approval for either the WestConnex M4 or M5 tunnel. An army of security, surveyors, drillers, engineers, earth movers and lawyers have been employed on public contracts to move the project forward.
Twice this week Haberfield residents have stopped surveyors working in local streets. On Tuesday, when residents queried their authority for working in a street near the proposed tunnel exit, workers initially denied that they worked for WestConnex. Later, they produced a WestConnex brochure and described themselves as ‘self-approvers with the Minister’, a unheard of concept in planning law. After more upset residents emerged from their houses, the workers eventually packed up and left.
Last week, the WDA also revealed plans for what the WestConnex Action Group described as an “LA spaghetti interchange” at the end of the proposed new M5 tunnel at St Peters, where it will also sweep away scores of houses and businesses.
Although residents knew that the planned interchange would be huge, many were stunned by the scale of the works. The community reaction was captured by Newtown Greens MP Jenny Leong, who responded with a simple post on her Facebook page: collaged images of the interchange with the letters ‘WTF’ across it.
If the tunnel is ever built, it will pour 31,000 extra cars a day onto King Street in Newtown and other local roads.
The Save Newtown Westconnex Action Group said this will have a devastating impact on thriving businesses and community life on the street, which can be declared a clearway at any time by NSW Roads and Maritime Services.
Over last weekend, the group collected 2000 signatures on a petition that calls for a halt to the project until there is a parliamentary inquiry and a full business case is released.
NSW Minister for Roads Duncan Gay said promotion of the interchange was based on new parks and an elevated cycle way. Like all motorways, the St Peters interchange would eventually have greenery between the tangle of roads and ventilation stacks.
The promise of a new park next to a ventilation stack did not go down well with St Peters residents, especially as the interchange will take a slice of Sydney Park, increase traffic in its perimeter roads, and come close to the front doors of the few remaining houses that are left nearby.
Most of the interchange will be on the site of the old Alexandria Landfill site. In August, WestConnex began major work on the highly contaminated site. The legal authority for this work is also unclear and the NSW Environmental Protection Authority have acknowledged that trucks leaving the site with asbestos were not all completely covered.
The WestConnex Action Group claims that the work is not only illegal but also dangerous, and have twice blockaded the site for two hours in recent weeks. While police have been called to the site, there have been no arrests.
As this story goes to press, the NSW Planning Minister Rob Stokes has released the Environmental Impact Statement for the M4 tunnel. The document is thousands of pages long with more than 80 technical attachments. Despite this, the Stokes has allowed only 45 days for comment rather than the 90 days sought by community groups.